I was going to breastfeed without birthing.
It started with baby #1. I asked questions, but I really didn't get much support. People thought it was WEIRD. Even adoptive mamas. It was hush-hush. I was embarrassed. Why did I have the inkling or urge to breastfeed when I didn't give birth? I didn't deserve the opportunity. I didn't earn the right. I wasn't the REAL mom...(yet).
So I didn't.
Then baby #2 came on day #1 of waiting. Whoa. There was no time to prepare. And I was a bit frantic. I mean, I expected to wait months, if not a year or more. God had other plans... So then I had a 2-year-old and a newborn. There was no way breastfeeding was going to happen.
Then when baby #2 was about 1.5, we got a call to adopt a toddler. Out-of-the-blue. So we scrambled, made many, many phone calls. And in the end, he wasn't our son. The complications of the interstate adoption without our paper work in order was just too much. (Thankfully, he went to a family whom we knew and adore!) But we began to wonder...why did we get that phone call? Were we supposed to be getting our paperwork in order?
By the time we were preparing for baby #3, I began to re-explore adoptive breastfeeding. I found a Le Leche leader and consultant, had a consultation, got a pump, and started pumping. Then we learned that IL DCFS and the FBI had a contract dispute with NO END IN SIGHT. Meaning, we had no idea how long it would be before we could get our background checks and officially start waiting for a baby. In our frustration, I stopped pumping. I wasn't willing to pump for months on end, not knowing when we'd ever be in the clear to adopt.
But then a few weeks later, all our paperwork was taken care of, and then we got the call we had been matched. Should I start to pump again? I was tired of adoption already...and I had a 4 year old and a 2 year old. And a part-time job. And a house. And...and..and. So I didn't. We were placed in January with Baby Z.
He may be our last baby. I hope he isn't. But he might be.
And it's sad to think of all the times I wanted to breastfeed and didn't for a myraid of reasons: feeling like others wouldn't approve/understand, unsure my diabetes could handle the physical demands of breasfeeding, unsure I was willing to make the appropriate sacrifies, unsure I really wanted to do it, feeling tired, feeling uncommitted.
I'm sharing all this because finally, finally, FINALLY, there is a book (with a fantastic author) who is here to tell adoptive mothers that you CAN breastfeed, and you CAN deal with the doubts and challenges, and you CAN do all these things because you have HER support!
Meet my new friend Alyssa Schnell, author of Breastfeeding Without Birthing.
Rachel: Your book, Breastfeeding Without Birthing, was just published. What was your motivation for writing the book?
Alyssa: Writing this book has been a dream of mine since I first started seriously researching adoptive breastfeeding soon after deciding to adopt. The book that I was hoping to find to help me successfully breastfeed my baby through adoption did not exist. So, I researched until I found everything that I needed. I was all out there, but not in one easily accessible and organized resource. I wanted take what I had learned on my journey to help other mothers who wanted to breastfeed a baby they did not birth. And that is why I decided to write this book.
Rachel: Tell me about yourself, personally and professionally.
Alyssa: I am the mother of three children, now ages 16, 13, and 7. My first two children arrived by birth and my youngest by adoption. I fell in love with breastfeeding with my first, although it was tough at the beginning. I got through the rough spots with the help of La Leche League and went on to become an accredited La Leche League Leader so that I could help others in the way that I was helped. I clearly recall the day I received all of my reading materials as I began the process of becoming an LLL Leader, because the first thing that I did was scan all of it for any information about breastfeeding an adopted baby. That surprised me, since we had no plans to adopt at that time. But the seed was planted. Several years later, my husband and I decided to adopt and I knew that I would breastfeed. We adopted a darling baby girl in November 2005 and breastfeeding went beautifully. I became even more passionate about breastfeeding than ever before. At that point, I decided to make a career of it and became certified as a lactation consultant. I work in private practice in the St. Louis area. I work with all breastfeeding mothers and babies, but I have an extra special place in my heart for working with adoptive mothers.
Rachel: How is your book different than other breastfeeding guides?
Alyssa: What I found in researching adoptive breastfeeding was that the information available out there was either too vague or too prescriptive. For example, one source mentions that mothers can use herbs such as fenugreek to help induce lactation, but it doesn’t say how to use the herbs and which other herbs may be helpful. Another source gives very specific instructions for inducing lactation which work great for some mothers, but aren’t a good fit for many others. And almost all of it is outdated, including one source that recommends a medication that is no longer considered safe. My book aims to provide detailed information and the most current information available, while at the same time providing lots of options so that each mother can customize her plan for breastfeeding to match her individual needs.
Rachel: Many adoptive mothers consider breastfeeding, but don't end up pursuing
it. Why is that? And what can we do, as adoption-supporters, to help women
feel that it's ok to have a desire to breastfeed?
Alyssa: I suspect that most adoptive mothers who are interested in breastfeeding but don’t pursue it do not have adequate support and information: it seems difficult and overwhelming, they don’t know how it will fit in with their (uncertain) adoption plans, and they don’t know where they can get help. They may have even heard of other adoptive mothers who had bad experiences with attempting to breastfeed for these very reasons. I am hoping to change all this.
It is very normal for an adoptive mother to want to feed and nurture her baby in the same way that mothers throughout time have done so. Those of us who support adoption know that that the love, commitment, and bond that we have for our adopted children is no less than if that child grew in our womb. I wonder if some people feel that breastfeeding an adopted baby is unnatural because of a bias that the adoptive mother is not the “real” mother. My daughter once asked me if her birthmother is her “real” mother. I said that she is. I said that I am, too.
Rachel: You have written that breastfeeding is about bonding, not about milk. Can
you share a bit more about this? And what would you say to an adoptive mother
who really wants to breastfeed but isn't able to produce much/any milk, feels uncomfortable, or is discouraged?
Alyssa: Over the past 11 years working with breastfeeding mothers, I have heard from mothers that the most common reason that they decided to breastfeed was because of the health benefits of providing their milk to their babies. However, when I ask mothers who are already breastfeeding why they continue, they say that the closeness is the most important part. Once we actually hold that little angel against our breast, see her look adoringly into our eyes as she suckles and releases the breast with that milky smile…there is no greater high than that. And this isn’t just emotional – it’s physiological. The hormones released during breastfeeding help both mother and baby feel calm and connected with each other. Breastfeeding isn’t just feeding - it is a unique, loving relationship between mother and baby.
Because breastfeeding is much more than feeding, a mother can still breastfeed even if she makes little or no milk. In many cases the mother will use an at-breast supplementer, which is a bag or bottle which hangs around mother’s neck and delivers extra milk or formula through a tiny tube to the mother’s nipple. We call this the “external milk duct” and it allows a baby to completely feed and comfort at the breast. Other mothers who don’t produce a significant amount of milk will nurse primarily for comfort and bottle-feed to provide nutrition. Some babies will not be interested in latching at the breast if there is no flow, but others won’t mind. I love this quote from a dear colleague of mine: “Mothering success is not measured in ounces – or drops – of milk that flow from breast to mouth; it’s measured in the love that flows between mother and baby.” -Diana Cassar-Uhl, 2012
If an adoptive mother wishes to breastfeed but is feeling uncomfortable or discouraged, I encourage her to seek support: from family and friends, other breastfeeding mothers, breastfeeding professionals, and probably most importantly from other breastfeeding adoptive mothers. My website contains various links to resources for support. Although it may seem like this at first, you really don’t need to travel this journey alone.
One last thing that I would like to share: breastfeeding my adopted baby has been the most rewarding experience in my life…even more rewarding than getting a book published! I hope that I can help other adoptive mothers and their babies to have the same opportunity. Please feel free to contact me through www.BreastfeedingWithoutBirthing.com or the Breastfeeding Without Birthing facebook page.